A New Jersey township has cut down all of the trees that provided shade in its main square to deter homeless people from gathering there.
Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles told Asbury Park Press that the controversial decision was made after the town received complaints from residents about people defecating and urinating in the square.
“(Homeless people) were harassing people, defecating between the cars and residents were complaining,” Mr Coles told The Press.
But the move has upset advocates who say it will do nothing to address homelessness in the town.
Steven Brigham, a minister and founder of the Destiny’s Bridge charity that provides services to those in need, told The Press that the town needed to create more shelters for homeless people.
“It’s extremely extreme to cut down the trees. That’s not the answer,” Mr Brigham said.
The trees were removed from the town square on 8 August.
Since then, more trees from a neighbouring parking lot had also been chopped down, Mr Brigham told The Press.
“Public parks property is public property,” he said. “It belongs to the public. And (homeless people) should have the right to stay on public property.”
Mr Coles did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
According to the Arbor Day Foundation, trees help fight climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the air and storing carbon. They also cool temperatures, encourage bird and bee life and prevent soil erosion.
Global campaigns such as the United Nation’s Trees in Cities Challenge encourage planting trees in urban areas to improve public health and mitigate the effects of climate change.